Illustration by Guy Billout
I call my friend Betsy "Best-y" for two reasons: first, because she's one of the best-beloved people in my life, and second, because anything she tries, she does better than anyone else in the world. The one thing that occasionally ruffles our mutual affection is that we're both rather competitive, in the sense that if you wondered aloud which of us could most quickly remove her own gall bladder with kitchen implements, Besty and I would be fighting for steak knives before the words left your mouth.
That doesn't bother me, though, because I'm less competitive than Besty. If someone were to rank us on noncompetitiveness, I would definitely win.
Anyway, one January—resolution time, goal time, gotta-shed-holiday-weight time—Besty and I joined some pals at a spa, planning to refocus, get in shape, prove that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Instead, that week taught me to honor W.C. Fields's profound statement "If at first you don't succeed, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it." The thing is, science supports this. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the ability to quit easily makes us healthier—and wealthier—than does leechlike tenacity.
Quitters Win and Winners Quit
After settling in at the spa, Besty and I considered the activities being offered the following day.
"Oh, look!" said Besty. "There's a morning hike at 5 a.m.!"
"Great!" I said, trying not to show horror. If Besty could haul herself out of bed and frolic athletically in the middle of the night, then, dammit, so could I.
"We'll be back in time for water aerobics," said Besty. "And after that, weight training and then kickboxing. This'll be so fun!"
"Fun!" I echoed. Then I heard my own voice, like a train with no brakes, saying, "How about Pilates and Jazzercise after that?"
"Cool!" said Besty. "I'm in!"
The next day was a blur of sweaty, exhausting, recondite competition. Besty walked faster than I did on the hike, because I'm not a morning person. Then I edged her out in weight training. Kickboxing was a draw—her kicks were higher, but she's tall, which must be considered. Besty got more praise from the Pilates coach, but I got more in Jazzercise. After seven straight hours of strenuous exercise, I felt as though my muscles had been taken apart, scoured, then badly reassembled by a team of evil student nurses. Besty still looked fresh. Pert. She looked really pert.
"Ready to call it a day?" I asked.
"Well..." Besty said. "There's still an advanced yoga class before dinner."
I looked at my schedule. Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!
"Shall we?" asked Besty, like a kid on Christmas morning.
"Absolutely!" I gagged. "Wouldn't miss it!" That class lasted approximately as long as the Pleistocene epoch. I try never to think of it. Sometimes, though, despite heavy medication, the memory returns unbidden, and I hear again the yoga instructor's comment, "The key to success is persistence. Quitting is failure." My mind reacted to this with numb acquiescence—I'd heard it so often, after all. But my body silently screamed, "Not always!"
Turns out my body was right.